Category Archives: Basketball

NBA Tankapalooza Power Rankings 1.0

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The 2014 NBA Draft is to die for. Okay, not really. Why would you want to die before or after watching the NBA Draft? Doesn’t seem logical to me, but the crop of draft picks next year looks that good.

Some teams have already lined up for pegged future all-stars such as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Marcus Smart. All three are college basketball players who will probably declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. Other teams are one disaster–during the off-season or regular season–away from going into tank mode in hopes of acquiring as many lottery balls as possible.

I ranked the top ten teams in terms of how tank-worthy they’ve become with 1 being total tank-worthy and 10 being, like previously said, a disaster away from joining the lowly Bobcats and Co. The rankings will likely fluctuate as the off-season goes on, but here are my top ten for now:

Tier 1 – Tanking and we know it

1. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers could’ve settled for another season of 30 to 40 wins, but took a gamble on trading Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and a 2014 top-5 protected draft pick from New Orleans. Basically, the 76ers are hoping to have two top-ten picks in a loaded 2014 draft. It’s a near-lock that their own pick will be in the top ten as they’ve chosen to bottom out in the standings. New Orleans looks like they’ll make a run at a lower seed in the Western Conference playoffs unless health takes a toll on their trio of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Anthony Davis.

What’s left for Philly? Andrew Bynum could be re-signed, but he’s a bigger risk than Noel at this point. Evan Turner’s about to have his last chance to prove he’s a piece to rebuild around. If not, he and Thaddeus Young will probably be on the trading block. The same can be said for Spencer Hawes, so they should hang his mustache in the rafters while they still can.

Maybe Philadelphia’s secretly trying to rebuild around Kwame Brown?

2. Boston Celtics

Boston’s cleaning house as they’ve already shopped Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry for the Nets poo-poo platter led by Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. The prize of that trade will come at least a few years from now with the 2016 and 2018 unprotected draft picks Brooklyn sent (along with one from 2014). By 2016, Boston’s hoping Brooklyn will be in a rebuilding phase.

Right now, they’re trying to put the final nail in the coffin of their 2014 season by shopping Rajon Rondo. Even if they keep Rondo, Boston should still be projected to win under 30 games. Their identity without Garnett and Pierce is gone, but Avery Bradley still remains a key rebuilding piece for the Celtics.

3. Phoenix Suns

The Suns were another team who could’ve spent a season letting Nerlens Noel rehabilitate before jumping into the NBA waters (or desert, since it’s Phoenix we’re talking about). Instead, the Suns went with Alex Len who has injury concerns of his own. Obviously, time will tell if they chose wisely in the draft but like Charlotte passing on Noel, I thought it was a head-scratcher. The Suns can also afford to wait on Len though. They’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley will be trade chips throughout next season, though there’s not much else to look forward to when watching the Suns. Goran Dragic’s another rebuilding piece, but he’s going to ease the tanking process more than turn the Suns into a playoff contender in the future. Check out his per-36-minute numbers at basketball-reference. They haven’t improved or regressed. At 26, Dragic is what he is and he will probably continue to have similar numbers for the next five or so seasons unless an injury occurs or (gasp) a woman comes along.

Other than those players there’s Michael Beasley, Shannon Brown, the Morris twins, Luis Scola, Kendall Marshall, and Hamed Haddadi among others on the Suns roster. Words to describe this roster: cluster****.

Some team will probably take one last chance on Beasley or Brown though, and Scola can be a missing piece off the bench for a contender. If Phoenix can ship those three players for second round picks and/or raw, young players with potential, it wouldn’t be that bad of a return on previous lukewarm investments.

4. Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats lost Anthony Davis to the lottery balls in 2012, then passed on Noel less than a week ago for Cody Zeller. While Zeller will compliment Bismack Biyombo better in the post, the Bobcats probably should’ve gone with Noel when looking at their rebuilding phase. They’ve been rebuilding for what seems like the beginning of life, but why not tank again by acquiring a center who may not even play next season?

Outside of Zeller, the Bobcats will get another year out of Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bismack Biyombo. They also have some cap room to fill this summer. Where they use that remains to be seen, but it may decide if Charlotte stays a 15-25 win team or one over 30.

Does Michael Jordan have the patience to tank for one more season?

Tier 2 – Kinda-sorta hiding the Tank Card but we kinda-sorta know they’ll use it

5. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks have nearly $30 million coming off the books this summer, though reports have shown that Milwaukee will use up a good chunk of it on re-signing Brandon Jennings. Maybe that’s so they can get pieces back in a future trade involving the shoot-first point guard but, like most teams who passed on Nerlens Noel, Milwaukee isn’t going anywhere with or without Jennings.

The future of the Bucks has shifted instead towards the forwards and centers of Larry Sanders, John Henson, and Ersan Ilyasova. Those aren’t exactly players who can transform a franchise, but they’re nice compliments to a team who could, ahem, snag a future star in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Should the Bucks go into tank mode, Fear the Deer will be no more. It will be replaced by Tears for the Deer.

6. Sacramento Kings

With new ownership, the future for the Kings at least looks brighter than a black hole, but their roster still comes off as one from a fantasy basketball league. The Kings will have to figure out how to distribute the shots around DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton, Isaiah Thomas, John Salmons, Jason Thompson, and first-round pick Ben McLemore. You could say Ben McLemore will defer to others if he didn’t take the initiative often enough at Kansas, but then why draft him with the seventh overall pick?

This roster will have several chances to change from now until February though. Teams will line up to make offers at restricted free agent Tyreke Evans this summer as well as make trade offers for the troubled DeMarcus Cousins, the latter likely continuing all the way until February. Depending on what the Kings receive in return, they could stay outside the five worst teams in the league or make a move to be included.

Remember though: as dysfunctional as the Kings were last season, they finished with only the seventh overall pick.

7. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors shipped Andrea Bargnani yesterday to the New York Knicks for most notably a 2016 first round pick and two second rounders in the future. The trade’s a win for the Raptors, but we’ll see if they’re done making moves this summer and through the season. Just remember that GM Masai Ujiri has no attachment to the current roster and Rudy Gay–a polarizing talent in front offices across the league–could be trade bait in the near-future.

Ujiri knows better than to be a late-lottery team like Toronto is slated to be. He’ll find a way to either hit bottom or find a diamond in the rough that gives Toronto a head start from other teams on this list.

Edit: The trade involving Bargnani might be held off because Kenyon Martin does not want to be signed and traded to Toronto, via Marc Stein.

Tier 3 – One disaster away from using the Tank Card

8. Los Angeles Lakers

Disaster: Dwight Howard signing with another team.

It almost looks like they’re trying to make Dwight Howard leave and with all but Steve Nash’s contract coming off the books after next season, the Lakers could swallow the tankapalooza pill and join their rival Celtics in the chase for Andrew Wiggins.

If Dwight Howard chooses to come back, the Lakers get either another first round exit in the playoffs or no playoff appearance at all, but not good enough odds to get in the top 3 of the lottery. Drat.

9. Dallas Mavericks

Disaster: Signing no marquee free agents.

Coming up empty-handed for a third summer in a row could mean cutting their losses, shipping Dirk (who has a no-trade clause, worth noting), and building from the bottom up. The Mavericks’ draft pick is currently owed to Oklahoma City, but it’s top-20 protected.

Could Mark Cuban stomach the thought of tanking for a high 2014 draft pick and starting all over for the first time in 15 years?

10. Portland Trail Blazers

Disaster: Trading LaMarcus Aldridge

Trade rumors around LaMarcus Aldridge, legitimate or not, will continue to be discussed throughout the summer and could intensify if Portland gets out to a rough start in the regular season. Even if he leaves, Portland still has Damian Lilliard, C.J. McCollum, and Nicholas Batum to build around. With two of those three under rookie contracts, that’s not a bad start to rebuilding a team into a contender.

Honorable mentions: Atlanta Hawks (disaster: signing no marquee free agents and losing Josh Smith for nothing), Minnesota Timberwolves (disaster: injury Gozilla bites them again next season).

I like the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons to consistently stay away from tank-worthy territory. Neither might not make the playoffs though both seem near-locks to stay out of the bottom five in standings. Basically, there will be too much ground between these teams and the likes of Philadelphia and Boston, for example, to tank and get a juicy spot in the lottery.

Thoughts on OKC-Memphis, Indiana-New York, NBA names, and more

There’s no smooth way to introduce this, so I’ll resort to issuing a warning: it’ll become evident by the very end how bored I was while writing some of this up. Just trust me on that. Here’s what I came up with anyway:

Last thoughts on the first round

For Chicago, Jimmy Butler played every second of Game 6 and 7 versus Brooklyn. He wasn’t subbed out, ever. Kobe’s jealous.

Here’s a video of the 19-0 run Boston pulled versus New York:

In my post reflecting on the first round, I wrote this year might be the one where Kevin Harlan’s hair lights on fire. Had he called that Knicks-Celtics game, it surely would’ve happened.

Moving on

As unfortunate as the Russell Westbrook knee injury has been, it’s been fun to see what Kevin Durant is capable of when he’s the first and second option on offense. Since Westbrook’s injury, he’s averaged 35.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. 2006 Kobe is jealous.

Durant’s shooting percentages vary, with making 29 percent from the arc but 50.9 percent overall. He’s 85.7 from the line, which is below his 90.5 percentage from the regular season, but he’s getting to the line 10.2 times per game. That’s about an extra attempt than his regular season average. It’s a decent tradeoff.

Derek Fisher has to make just about every three he takes to justify playing his flop-heavy defense. Well, he’s made 58 percent so far. Good enough.

One of Memphis’ weaknesses on offense is making threes. They’re 24th in that area when it comes to shooting percentage, but the results have been pretty good when they make as many or more than their opponent, at least in the regular season. They were 9-1 when they made as many threes as their opponent, with the loss coming to the Clips. When they made more threes than their opponent, they were 19-6. Three losses came to Denver, one to the Clips, one to Oklahoma City, and one to, um, Washington? Huh?

It’s been a little different in the playoffs. Memphis is 1-1 (won Game 4 vs LAC, lost Game 2 vs LAC) when they’ve tied their opponent in threes made. Durant’s go-ahead bucket in Game 1 also put Memphis at 1-1 when they’ve made more threes than their opponent. Their win came in Game 6 versus the Clippers. We’ll see if that statistic changes throughout the series.

One last Memphis stat: in the Western Conference semifinals, Marc Gasol is knocking down one referee per game:

+1 for Bill Kennedy doing a reverse somersault.

Moving on to Indiana and New York. There was some talk, at least on Twitterslovakia, that the Knicks have nowhere to go but up as far as their shooting is concerned. In Game 1, Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton, and J.R. Smith combined to shoot 39.3 percent (26-66) from the field, 33 percent from 3 (5-15), and 16-19 from the line.

Smith’s shooting numbers since coming back from his suspension: 12-42 from the field, 6-17 from 3 and 14-18 from the line. He did have a huge layup + foul in Game 6 at Boston, but other than that he’s been forgettable. Also, Jason Kidd has been ghastly, going 3-12 from the arc and 3-18 total.

So the talk of Melo and the Knicks backcourt struggling is true, but Indiana didn’t exactly light it up either. In Game 1, the trio of David West, Paul George, and George Hill combined for 39.1 percent (18-46), 4-16 from 3, and 13-15 from the line. The contributions from the rest of the Pacers set them apart in the first game. D.J. Augustin, for heaven’s sake, came into Game 1 shooting below 30 percent in the first round against the Hawks and 35 percent for the whole season. He was 5-6 with four threes yesterday. During the season, Augustin took more than five shots 19 times. He only shot 50 percent or better in four of them.

Lance Stephenson has been a beast on the boards, logging more rebounds (61) than points (58). His defensive rebounding percentage versus the Hawks was 24.7, higher than the regular season percentages of Tyson Chandler, Andrew Bogut, and David Lee. Surely, that percentage went up after yesterday’s 11-point, 13-rebound (11 defensive) performance. Still waiting for it to update on basketball-reference.com. Hurry up.

Update: that number jumped to 26.1 percent. When comparing defensive rebounding percentages in the playoffs, his rate surpasses the likes of Omer Asik, Andrew Bogut, and Larry Sanders.

And then there’s Roy Hibbert. Yesterday was proof that +/- differentials have their flaws. Hibbert was -1 in that area, but his defense was brilliant while chipping in on offense at just the right times. He logged 39 minutes. It was the second-highest total all year and second-highest of his postseason career, behind 39 minutes and 53 seconds against Miami in game 6 last postseason.

As Indiana has their hands full trying to defend Melo, so too will New York when trying to defend David West and Roy Hibbert. I predicted them to either lose to New York in five or beat them in six. It’s basically the difference between the unselfish, quick-ball-movement Knicks and the iso-heavy, this-is-why- I-don’t-like-you Knicks. It’s not like Indiana lit it up against Atlanta either, needing six games to finish them off.

If I had to pick between Melo and Paul George, I’d take George. Besides being six years younger, he’s more of a complete player. I know it’s crazy when thinking about defense, but it’s half the game and George has been terrific on that end. As a team, Indiana leads the league in defensive rating by nearly three points, 95.4 to Memphis’ second-place 98.1. When George is on the court, it drops to 94.9 but rises to 97.9 when he’s on the bench. A three-point swing on a team like Indiana’s has a little bit more weight.

But Melo attracts more attention. When he creates for others, the team is fun to watch and a little more likeable. Will we see that Knicks team this series or will they flame out versus Indiana?

This makes me feel a little better about my playoff predictions:

And last and definitely least, in one of the more degenerate statistics I’ve discovered, eight out of the top 30 players, according to ESPN’s #NBARank from April, have two first names. The list: Zach Randolph, Paul George, Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and LeBron James. What it all means: I need to get out more.

It’s pretty embarrassing to take a whole five minutes to research that, so I’ll deflect the attention back to Charles Barkley, who nearly broke a couch while trying to tackle Shaq Saturday night.

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